Thursday June 4th, 2009

NEW YORK -- Disappointed. That was the word Wladimir Klitschko's manager, Shelly Finkel, used to describe the mood of his fighter on Wednesday after it was announced that David Haye had pulled out of the scheduled June 20th IBF, WBO and IBO title fight against Klitschko with a hand injury.

"He's bothered by this," Finkel told SI.com. "This was a fight he really wanted."

That's an understatement. Ordinarily mild mannered, Klitschko had worked himself into a bit of a lather when it came to Haye. The outspoken Haye, a former cruiserweight champion who was looking for his first heavyweight title, had been a thorn -- or perhaps an ice pick -- in Klitschko's side for more than a year. In various interviews Haye leveled both personal and professional attacks in the direction of Klitschko and his brother, WBC champ Vitali. In no particular order, Haye has called the Klitschko's women, demeaned Wladimir as mentally weak and donned a T-shirt that featured his likeness holding the severed heads of both Klitschko's in either hand. During a charity event in London last year, Haye tracked Klitschko down in a stairwell and hurled insults at him.

"Everywhere I go, David Haye is there," Klitschko said recently. "I want him bad."

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen this month and it may not happen for a while. In multiple interviews with SI.com, Klitschko has repeatedly expressed a desire to stay busy. At 33, he is in the prime of his career and although the heavyweight division is littered with marginally talented contenders (Eddie Chambers, Alexander Povetkin and Oleg Maskaev, to name a few) and the only real fight that could generate American interest is the one Klitschko won't take (against his brother, WBC champion Vitali), Wladimir understands the importance of keeping a regular schedule. That's why he intends to keep the June 20th date and seek out a replacement for Haye.

"We're looking at a few people right now," said Finkel.

One of the possibilities Team Klitschko has considered is WBA champion Nicolay Valuev, whose scheduled defense against Ruslan Chagaev last weekend was scrapped after Chagaev was not medically cleared to fight.

While Valuev-Klitschko would be an interesting fight -- Valuev holds the only major piece of the heavyweight title not owned by a Klitschko -- according to Finkel, the odds of making it on such short notice are long.

"Wladimir wants that fight," said Finkel. "But [Valuev's camp] doesn't want it. They talk a lot but they don't want to make that fight."

If Valuev is out, that doesn't leave Klitschko with many options. A handful of fringe contenders like Odlanier Solis, Kevin Johnson and Brian Minto have offered to fill Haye's spot but none of them bring to the table the kind of name or widespread (at least in Europe) appeal of Haye or Valuev.

Haye's injury may eventually cost him any shot at Wladimir Klitschko. As the IBF and WBO champion, Klitschko is required to defend his title against the recognized No. 1 contenders. Neither the IBF (which recognizes Povetkin as its top contender) or the WBO (which ranks Alexander Dimitrenko No. 1) would likely permit Klitschko to make two optional defenses without making a mandatory defense later this year.

"We're hoping that is not an issue," said Finkel. "We're hoping to face Haye in the fall and make the mandatory defense later this year."

If that happens, Klitschko would still get his long awaited shot at Haye. And perhaps that would somehow salvage what is shaping up to be another forgettable year.

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